LONDON — Marks & Spencer Group plc, a bellwether for U.K. retail, saw sales rise 4 percent in the pre-Christmas period, with single-digit increases in all product categories.

The company cautioned, however, that challenging times lay ahead.

“Marks & Spencer traded well through the important Christmas period despite the severe weather,” stated chief executive Marc Bolland. He noted that in the clothing category, where sales rose 4.7 percent, staples such as underwear, sleepwear and footwear performed strongly, as did fashion items such as Fair Isle knitwear in the 13 weeks to Jan. 1.

Although guidance for the financial year remains unchanged, Bolland said the store was bracing for tough times due to the twin challenges of Britain’s austerity measures and a spike in raw material costs. In addition, a rise in value added tax (VAT) to 20 percent from 17.5 percent came into effect last week.

“We continue to expect the trading conditions ahead to be more challenging as consumers’ disposable incomes come under pressure from increased VAT rates, and the impact of public spending cuts. In addition, we are facing increased commodity prices and significantly tougher comparatives,” he said.

The retailer provided percentages only, and will report fourth-quarter trading figures on April 6.

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